Team Canada pins Olympic hockey hopes on veteran roster
‘There are some tremendous stories here, guys who have had adversity,’ says Canadian GM Sean Burke
When general manager Sean Burke delivered his 25-player Canadian men's Olympic team on Thursday there wasn't the sort of scrutiny that Steve Yzerman or Wayne Gretzky or Bobby Clarke endured while they put together a roster of the NHL's best for the previous five Winter Games.
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Instead of debates about players like Claude Giroux, Joe Thornton, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford being snubbed with the decisions, there won't be much dispute as to whether Simon Despres, Jay McClement, P.A. Parenteau or goalie Barry Brust deserved spots on this team for South Korea next month.
Burke, a former Olympian himself having played at the 1988 and 1992 Winter Games, had a much more difficult task in constructing this team. He didn't have the luxury of choosing from the game's best or even teams in 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1994 when some NHL players were loaned for the Olympics.
With help from his network of scouts and the coaching staff, Burke had to scour the leagues in Russia, Sweden and Switzerland as well as keep an eye on the U.S. colleges, Canadian junior and American Hockey League ranks.
Burke decided not to select any junior players. He did invite Cale Makar of Calgary, a freshman at the University of Massachusetts Minutemen, but the gold-medal winning Canadian junior defenceman turned down Burke. The 19-year-old Colorado Avalanche draft pick (fourth overall in 2007) wanted to stay in school and help his college team.
After watching 75 different players (four goalies, 23 defencemen and 48 forwards) in five tournaments over the past five months, Burke decided to go with primarily a veteran team of Canadian pros playing in Europe. The average age of the Canadian team is 31.
His roster of three goalies, eight defencemen and 14 forwards has plenty of NHL experience with players like Max Lapierre, Mason Raymond, Rene Bourque, Derek Roy and Gilbert Brule as well as some of who have forged nice careers in Europe, like defencemen Maxim Noreau and Chay Genoway.
"This group will make Canada proud," Burke said. "There are some tremendous stories here, guys who have had adversity through some phase of their careers."
Guys like Cody Goloubef, a 28-year-old defenceman from Mississauga, Ont. He was drafted in the second round (37th overall) by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2008 and won gold with Canada at the 2009 world junior championships in Ottawa.
Since he was drafted, Goloubef has played in more AHL games (246) than NHL games (129). This year, he has played for the AHL Stockton Heat and has made an impact with six goals and 14 points in 27 games. He also played on the Spengler Cup championship team last month.
Defenceman Chris Lee and Stanley Cup-champion Chris Kelly are the oldest at 37. Kelly is the most experienced, having gone to the NHL final three times and played in 833 NHL regular-season games and 92 more in the playoffs. Kelly has prolonged his career with a stint for the AHL Belleville Senators this season and he helped Canada win the Spengler Cup 11 days ago.
Christian Thomas, who also was on the successful 2017 Spengler Cup team, is the youngest at 25. The son of former NHLer Steve Thomas has played this season with the AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and has 27 games of NHL experience with the New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens and Arizona Coyotes.
Canada, of course, is the two-time defending gold-medal champion in the men's Olympic hockey competition. What are the chances of winning a third time in a row?
There is no doubt the Russians, competing under a neutral flag because of the doping scandal in that country, are the favourites with Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk leading the way. Sweden and Finland also are contenders.
Canada doesn't have the marquee players of those three countries. But this country has depth and a history of coming together to play well in short-term events, such as in 1992 and 1994 Olympics when Canada settled for silver medals before the NHL's best began to participate in 1998.
The Canadians will have a weeklong training camp in Latvia before they travel to Pyeongchang and opening the men's tournament against Switzerland on Feb. 15. That week will be critical in order to develop chemistry and trust in the systems put forth by head coach Willie Desjardins and his staff.
But after that, Canada's success will depend on its goaltending trio of Ben Scrivens, Kevin Poulin and Justin Peters. You don't win Olympic gold without standout netminding.
The other concern centres around where the goal scoring will come from? The likes of Roy, Brule, Andrew Ebbett, Eric O'Dell, Mason Raymond and Brandon Kozun have been point producers at different levels, including Europe. Canada is going to need some timely goal scoring.
The way this team has come together is a neat story, far from the bright lights of the NHL. Watching this group come together and to see how they perform next month will be fascinating, too.
Canada's Olympic men's roster
- Justin Peters, Blyth, Ont. (Europe)
- Kevin Poulin, Montreal (Europe)
- Ben Scrivens, Spruce Grove, Alta. (KHL)
- Stefan Elliott, Vancouver (Europe)
- Chay Genoway, Morden, Man. (KHL)
- Cody Goloubef, Oakville, Ont. (AHL)
- Marc-Andre Gragnani, L'Ile-Bizard, Que. (KHL)
- Chris Lee, MacTier, Ont. (KHL)
- Maxim Noreau, Montreal (Europe)
- Mat Robinson, Calgary (KHL)
- Karl Stollery, Camrose, Alta. (KHL)
- Rene Bourque, Lac La Biche, Alta. (Europe)
- Gilbert Brule, Edmonton (KHL)
- Andrew Ebbett, Vernon, B.C. (Europe)
- Quinton Howden, Oakbank, Man. (KHL)
- Chris Kelly, Toronto (AHL)
- Rob Klinkhammer, Lethbridge, Alta. (KHL)
- Brandon Kozun, Calgary (KHL)
- Maxim Lapierre, Brossard, Que. (Europe)
- Eric O'Dell, Ottawa (KHL)
- Mason Raymond, Cochrane, Alta., (Europe)
- Derek Roy, Rockland, Ont. (Europe)
- Christian Thomas, Toronto (AHL)
- Linden Vey, Wakaw, Sask. (KHL)
- Wojtek Wolski, Toronto (KHL)